Put Big Pines Lakes on your “Must Hike List”!!! My usual hiking area is from the Mammoth northward, so this trail really surprised me with it’s grand scenery, gently flowing creek, and pristine alpine lakes. Similar to many trails in the Sierra, this is definitely one that shouldn’t be missed.
This well-maintained trail is located in Inyo National Forest and resides mostly within the John Muir Wilderness. It begins right before the Glacier Lodge on Glacier Lodge Road. There is a parking area with restrooms near the trailhead. A National Forest Adventure Pass is required. You pass through a gate where there are cabins on the right. You’ll follow along the bank of Big Pine Creek, and will quickly come upon the main North Fork Trail, which starts with a couple of switchbacks to the right. In less than a half mile, you’ll come to an old road bed. Turn right and cross a bridge, then take the trail to the left. It is level through the valley, but soon starts to become steeper with several switchbacks.
The trail follows along the Big Pine Creek, with a couple of small waterfalls, and ridgelines on both sides. In two quick miles, Lon Chaney’s log cabin comes into view. It was built in the perfect spot, along side the creek, with a spectacular view of the mountainscape in the backside of the cabin.
The trail to Second Lake maintains its gradual incline. It’s a strenuous climb, but never gets overly steep, so when you’ve reached Second Lake, 3000 feet of gain doesn’t seem too terribly arduous. The entire trail experience is quite pleasurable.
Within a couple of miles, First Lake come into view. It was frozen over when I visited so I didn’t get to see the emerald blue of the water, but the pictures I’ve seen of the lake are beautiful, especially with Mt. Alice and several other peaks surrounding it. Second Lake is a mere 1/2 mile north of the first. The views of Temple Crag and the lake were breathtaking! When I visited, the lake was partially frozen, but the color was still spectacular. Glacial silt makes this lake a shimmering turquoise color.
It was very hard to turn around and not hike the full loop. Unfortunately, I started this trail quite late, so the sun was setting by the time I made it to Second Lake, therefore I was limited to the 10 miles out and back. The total Big Pine Creek Trail loop is 13 miles, with 1000′ more of elevation gain. The trail goes by seven lakes, including Black Lake. I will definitely be doing the loop later this year. In addition to this loop, there is a 19 mile trail that leads to the Palisade Glacier, a perfect overnighter, with a total of 5000′ elevation gain.
Thankfully, I did turn around, because I arrived back to the trailhead well after dark. Oh well, there was a bottle of “Happy Camper” Chardonnay waiting for me. =) I had such a fantastic day on the North Fork Big Pines Trail and can’t wait to go back and do some more exploring! You surely won’t be disappointed making this trail one of your hiking destinations!!!